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Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
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America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34

A-PublicEnemiesIn 1933, police jurisdictions ended at state lines, the FBI was in its infancy, anybody could buy fast cars and machine guns, and a good number of Americans blamed the Great Depression on the banks. In short, it was the perfect time to be a bank robber. Taking full advantage of this opportunity was a motley assortment of criminal masterminds, sociopaths, romantics, and cretins, some of who would become (with a little PR help from J. Edgar Hoover) the most famous outlaws in American history. After years of research, Burrough weaves together the stories of Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and the rest of the FBI’s nemeses into a single enthralling account.
Penguin. 592 pages. $29.95. ISBN: 1594200211

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It is easy to toss around terms like ‘definitive,’ but this book deserves it. It is hard to imagine a more careful, complete and entrancing book on this subject, and on this era." Lawrence M. Friedman

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In the telling Mr. Burrough displays a genius for historical reconstruction and an attention to detail so vivid that the reader can almost smell Bonnie and Clyde, neither of whom showed much inclination to bathe. … [But even] the image of Dillinger—all cool confidence, gracefully vaulting over a teller station to clean out a bank safe—loses its charm on the third or fourth iteration." Edward P. Lazarus

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Public Enemies is excellent true crime with all the strengths and limitations this implies." Mark Costello

Orlando Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Burrough’s research has unearthed many previously unreported details about the criminals, their victims and the law officers. The details are often gory, and of such thickness that perhaps only crime buffs will want to read every word of every gunbattle."Steve Weinberg

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Burrough’s account, which follows the two-year crime wave, gang by gang, as they careen across the country, is filled with car chases, gunfights, jailbreaks, heists, kidnappings and stakeouts. … [It] will make excellent reading for fans of American history and true crime." Chuck Leddy

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Bryan Burrough’s Public Enemies is chockablock with gripping murderous incidents. … Though each deadly spree is morbidly fascinating in its awful way, the effect after a while is like watching an extended battle scene on video: You just want to fast-forward." Roger K. Miller

Critical Summary

Acclaimed Vanity Fair contributor Burrough’s grandfather once set up roadblocks to capture Bonnie and Clyde. Suckled on tales of the crime, Burrough now succeeds where his grandfather failed, capturing the often-grotesque lives of Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and the Barkers in riveting (and sometimes too much) detail. Burrough has unearthed an extraordinary amount of new material. Despite an appalling catalogue of ineptitude, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wielded an increasingly influential mass media to market the mystique of the altruistic "G-men," and Public Enemies reveals the extent to which past chroniclers were fed FBI propaganda. Both a satisfying entertainment and a groundbreaking work with powerful echoes in today’s news, Public Enemies is an authoritative history of America’s first War on Crime.

Also by the Author

Barbarians at the Gate The Fall of RJR Nabisco | Bryan Burrough and John Hellyar (1990): A real life business thriller—and taking the banks’ money was legal.